While there are many learnings that can be taken from the MMC-led construction of commercial retail, hospitals and prisons – all of which showcase MMC’s scalability potential – attention must be directed to the fact that, overall, consumers want greater diversity when it comes to their homes. Therefore, while technology is developing quickly and MMC is generating buildings of a higher quality than ever before, manufacturers, architects and design professionals will play a vital role in ensuring that individuality is maintained and that clients are well informed on whether MMC is the right approach for a project.
Nonetheless, meeting the Government’s target of building 300,000 new homes per year using traditional methods of construction alone would be an extremely tall order. So, with these ambitious targets coupled with continuous shortages impacting materials and labour, it doesn’t come as much of a shock that arguments favouring offsite housing production are taking centre stage. But in order to make this a success, collaboration is key, and housebuilders, contractors, designers and the wider supply chain must all commit to working together in order to educate each other and drive the industry forward.
THE NEED FOR SPEED
Recent statistics highlight that almost 50,000 new homes were built in the first three months of 2021, the biggest increase seen in over 20 years. However, since then, the construction industry has been impacted by a number of challenges which have meant that some projects have been hit by delays and unanticipated costs.
Due to this, methods such as offsite manufacturing are increasing in popularity due to their ability to increase productivity and the speed at which homes, hospitals and schools are being built. In fact, in 2021, Savills predicted that the proportion of new housing developments built using MMC would need to increase from the current 6-10% to 20% of the market in the coming years in order to meet government targets.
GROUND BREAKING DESIGN
Despite the benefits MMC can offer, many within the industry are hesitant to switch to modular building. One reason for this is that, historically, factory-based assemblies have suffered from a bad reputation when it comes to aesthetics. However, due to technological advancements in recent years, modular building now actually serves as an opportunity to push the boundaries of innovation and high-quality design. Putting the wellbeing of residents first, the interiors of modular buildings are now designed to be spacious and to let in copious natural light, while also being constructed using high-quality materials, heating and plumbing systems.
Plus, many fail to acknowledge that the speed of delivery is not only great for the pocket, it is also great for design. By accelerating the delivery of new homes by more than double the rate of traditional methods, modular not only allows us to meet demands quicker, but it also gives architects the space to ensure that each and every building is thoroughly planned and aesthetically appealing while still meeting project timelines. This means that despite the concerns of many, MMC is far from compromising on design, it is actually leading the way.
Multiple climate change studies indicate that indoor temperatures will exceed the comfort threshold of 26°C in the future, meaning that the amount of energy needed for cooling will go beyond the energy necessary for heating. To solve this problem, future-oriented temperature control in modular homes must be energy efficient, possess the ability for both heating and cooling, and fit into the limited space of many modular assemblies.
To heat or cool a module with limited space, radiant emitter systems can be used as they have the capability of being installed behind walls, above ceilings, and under the floor, allowing the space to be maximised. Technological advancement in the sector has also led to the development of low-profile screeded radiant heating systems which can be installed at a total build height of only 15 mm, providing a good thermal mass while still providing the optimum space to allow design freedom.
Radiant heating systems can also be easily controlled in individual rooms, or pods, via a dedicated thermostat which provides the best thermal profile for a specific area of a modular build. This allows modular homes to be heated more efficiently, as energy is not wasted in rooms or zones that are not in use, in fact, it is estimated that these systems are between 20-25% more energy-efficient than convection heating.
Underfloor heating systems are also easier to use for cooling. Hydronic cooling systems pass water through the pipes which absorb the heat within a room cooling the environment and preventing overheating. The system’s temperature controls prevent the build-up of heat during warmer periods by reducing the degree to which the building mass heats up. The result is that surfaces are kept cooler and the internal ambient air temperature remains more comfortable.
MMC – A WORLDWIDE TREND
In spite of the obvious advantages brought by modular housing, it is not yet widely utilised in the UK. However, Looking at worldwide trends, MMC could soon make a huge impact on the UK housing market.
Thanks to advancements in technology and design, methods such as modular building have already been adopted on mass scale across the global market with 150-180,000 modular homes constructed per annum in Japan, and around 45% of Swedish homes now being built using offsite manufacturing. So, with the benefits of MMC becoming increasingly apparent, it is clear that something is changing and it is only a matter of time before MMC rises to the forefront of UK housing innovation. ‘Watch this pod.’
Dave Lancaster is senior category manager at Uponor